Stubborn dilemma of aging workforce

Friday September 28, 2012

While it is no surprise to learn that the Berkshire County work- force is getting older and qualified younger workers aren’t available in sufficient numbers to replace them, it is a concern nonetheless. This information re vealed Thursday to the Berkshire Cham ber of Commerce emphasizes the importance of ongoing efforts to provide young people with the education and training necessary to get the county economy moving forward.

This data was presented by Robert Clifford, a policy analyst for the New England Public Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and it put tangible numbers behind the anecdotal evidence of the county’s predicament. The Berkshires have the second oldest workforce of the eight regions of the state studied and the number of workers between ages 25 and 44 is declining at a faster rate than any other region. This is consistent with a population loss over the last decade fueled by smaller families and the exodus of young people to more promising pastures.

Education is a crucial component in shifting these deep-rooted trends as the good jobs of the present and future will require advanced degrees. The good news is that Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts are tailoring programs for the job market, and while the Berkshires have consistently trailed the rest of the state in the number of associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees completed over the past decade, the gap narrowed from 2007 to 2010, the last year in which data was available.

Local companies like General Dynam ics have reported that vacancies go un filled by local workers because they are not sufficiently qualified, which means that county agencies must continue to emphasize worker training as well as education. With advances in technology, workers in growth fields will have to constantly advance their education if they are going to survive, let alone move up, in their professions.

The study documented the increase in the Asian and Hispanic populations in the otherwise stagnant Berkshires, and many in this population will need the English literacy programs jeopardized by government funding cuts. This population will be critical to the county’s successful economic growth. Educators, businesses and public agencies must help newcomers, as well as the young people now being lost to other regions and states, find their niches in a challenging workplace so they are able to stay in the Berkshires and build careers and families here.


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